Pilot dead, passenger survives after North Slope charter plane crash

Teshekpuk Lake. (Photo courtesy Bureau of Land Management)

The pilot of a charter plane is dead after crashing near Teshekpuk Lake southeast of Utqiagvik Thursday night.

The North Slope Borough Search and Rescue Department received a distress signal between 9 p.m. and midnight, says spokesperson D.J. Fauske. Fauske says pilot Jim Webster of Fairbanks charter company Webster’s Flying Service died in the crash.

Fauske says Search and Rescue found one passenger alive: Ben Jones, a researcher with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Institute of Northern Engineering. A rescue helicopter brought Jones to Utqiagvik.

“Ben is recovering in Utqiagvik at our hospital there, with multiple fractures,” Fauske said. “(He’s) expected to recover, but obviously severely injured.”

Fauske says Jones and Webster were the only two on the plane. UAF spokeswoman Marmian Grimes says Jones was conducting research at the Teshekpuk Lake Observatory. Jones’s research primarily deals with permafrost and arctic water systems. Grimes didn’t know if Jones was heading towards or away from the research site when the crash occurred.

Fauske says the National Transportation Safety Board is coordinating an investigation into the crash with the North Slope Borough. And he says flying conditions were very bad and foggy when the distress beacon was received.

Fauske says it was important that Webster had a special international beacon that was compatible with the borough’s search and rescue equipment.

“They were able to locate them because of that device,” Fauske said. “Without that device, it was still bright out since it’s that time of year, but it would be very difficult.”

North Slope Borough Mayor Harry Brower thanked search and rescue for recovering Jones, and he sent prayers to Webster’s family.

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